Almost an hour before the ceremony even began, the courtroom brimmed with anticipation.
On Wednesday, 35 applicants from 24 countries took part in the first naturalization ceremony of 2020, officially becoming U.S. citizens in Tompkins County’s first naturalization ceremony of the year. As part of the ceremony, Tompkins County Judge John Rowley ’82 administered the Oath of Allegiance to the group at the Tompkins County Courthouse.
Some fidgeted with the flowers and American flags pinned to their lapels, while others smiled wide for pictures with their families.
After a welcome speech by Tompkins County Legislator Anne Koreman, Tompkins County Clerk Maureen Reynolds took a roll call of petitioners and Liz Susmann, a teacher at ESL program Open Doors English, delivered a speech, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Oath of Allegiance took place.
The ceremony is the final step in a process that begins with filling out the application for naturalization, getting one’s biometrics taken, being interviewed and taking English and civics tests.
Once applicants reach the final step for citizenship, they must recite an oath in which one swears full allegiance to the U.S., while renouncing any allegiance to any other country. For many, this did not cause any distress.
“I’ve spent most of my life here,” said Pakala Nakornthap, formerly a citizen of Thailand. “Finally it’s official. It’s a culmination.”
Mirit Bessire, another new U.S. citizen, described the process as a nerve-wracking journey, but one that was worth it. Bessire came to the U.S. from Israel as an international student before beginning the process 12 years ago.
The Trump administration’s rhetoric has been accompanied by changes to the immigration process such as more vetting and prolonged processing times, as well as executive orders intended to restrict immigration. One such executive order was in effect from Jan. 27, 2017 until March 6, 2017, and was intended to suspend the entry of immigrants from seven countries.
“That’s something that grieves a lot of immigrants,” Bessire said. “People just want to go by their lives, their everyday lives and sometimes it feels like you’re being chased after.”
However, she did acknowledge that the individual workers she interacted with in immigration agencies were very helpful, as they were often immigrants themselves.
Samir Azza — originally from Morocco — had another opinion on Trump’s comments.
“Whether you like him or not, it doesn’t matter,” said Azza, who has lived in Ithaca with his family for five years now. “He’s the president. Imagine if you built a house and someone broke into it and messed everything up. That’s what illegal immigration is like. It’s nice to be here legally.”
One thing those who were interviewed agreed upon was that they were looking forward to being able to vote, and the crowd around the voter registration stand outside the courtroom attested to that, blocking the entrance and threatening to spill down the stairs.